El Salvador’s Humanitarian Rescue Unit Aids Disaster Victims

El Salvador’s Humanitarian Rescue Unit Aids Disaster Victims

By Dialogo
February 06, 2015




Members of the Humanitarian Rescue Unit (UHR) of El Salvador's Armed Forces (FAES) consistently display courage, resilience, and determination as they carry out their mission to rescue and protect victims of natural disasters and other life-threatening situations, such as fires.

During floods, earthquakes, landslides, or volcanic eruptions, the UHR deploys its 250 service members to conduct search-and-rescue operations, provide medical support, and make sure that shelters are secure, according to General Rafael Melara Rivera, Chief of the Joint Staff of the Salvadoran Armed Forces.

“When there is a national emergency, the Civil Protection System is activated and the UHR moves immediately to reduce the impact of disasters," Gen. Melara said. "Our teams are available to different government institutions to assist victims."

The UHR responds quickly and sometimes works in cooperation with other first responders during emergency situations.

For example, on January 3, a large fire broke out at the Las Cascadas shopping center in the municipality of Antiguo Cuscatlán. The UHR responded quickly to work with the Fire Department to stop the blaze. The UHR helped extinguish the fire by using UH-1H helicopters equipped with Bambi Buckets, four-foot tall containers which hold large amounts of water. Helicopter operators used them to drop water collected from Lake Ilopango onto the blaze.

“The Salvadoran Fire Department was able to contain the fire in part of the shopping center, but the fire was advancing on other sides because there was a lot of flammable material," recalled Julio Salvador Monroy, a 36-year-old security guard who worked at a nearby university. "The helicopters helped create a firebreak to prevent it from spreading further."

Aiding the civilian population for 18 years



The UHR has responded to emergency situations to protect civilians for the last 18 years.

It was created in 1997, within the framework of the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC), which proposed that all of the countries in the region should have units to aid their civilian population in the event of an emergency.

Since its inception, the UHR has provided aid not just in El Salvador, but beyond the country's borders.

In 2012, the UHR assisted Haiti's civilian population in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 220,000 people and destroyed 300,000 homes and commercial buildings.

The UHR also helped Nicaragua during the Atlantic floods of 2013.

In El Salvador, the UHR aided the civilian population during the major earthquakes that struck in January and February 2001. Collectively, the two temblors killed more than 1,200 people and destroyed or damaged more than 300,000 homes.

The unit also assisted the civilian population during the May 2014 volcanic eruptions, which prompted authorities to evacuate about 1,400 people from their homes about 90 miles east of San Salvador.

Training, support, and cooperation


To be prepared for any emergency, UHR members participate in various training programs. For example, in August 2011, the UHR took part in a tactical combat course held by the Armed Forces of Peru in coordination with the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).

“SOUTHCOM has given us a lot of support during military exercises at a local and regional level through the Humanitarian Allied Forces (FAHUM) to evaluate the emergency system levels and its response capabilities," Gen. Melara said. "There, we have trained leaders in simulations."

In 2014, the UHR participated in a two-week training program involving various simulated emergency situations, such as a collapsed structure and a highway accident involving hazardous materials.

Military authorities are developing a training plan to respond to earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, and other natural threats. Those will maximize the UHR's ability to protect and shelter victims and help provide them medical care.

“The FAES are constantly training and improving because, in El Salvador, the rehearsals become reality,” concluded Gen. Melara.



Members of the Humanitarian Rescue Unit (UHR) of El Salvador's Armed Forces (FAES) consistently display courage, resilience, and determination as they carry out their mission to rescue and protect victims of natural disasters and other life-threatening situations, such as fires.

During floods, earthquakes, landslides, or volcanic eruptions, the UHR deploys its 250 service members to conduct search-and-rescue operations, provide medical support, and make sure that shelters are secure, according to General Rafael Melara Rivera, Chief of the Joint Staff of the Salvadoran Armed Forces.

“When there is a national emergency, the Civil Protection System is activated and the UHR moves immediately to reduce the impact of disasters," Gen. Melara said. "Our teams are available to different government institutions to assist victims."

The UHR responds quickly and sometimes works in cooperation with other first responders during emergency situations.

For example, on January 3, a large fire broke out at the Las Cascadas shopping center in the municipality of Antiguo Cuscatlán. The UHR responded quickly to work with the Fire Department to stop the blaze. The UHR helped extinguish the fire by using UH-1H helicopters equipped with Bambi Buckets, four-foot tall containers which hold large amounts of water. Helicopter operators used them to drop water collected from Lake Ilopango onto the blaze.

“The Salvadoran Fire Department was able to contain the fire in part of the shopping center, but the fire was advancing on other sides because there was a lot of flammable material," recalled Julio Salvador Monroy, a 36-year-old security guard who worked at a nearby university. "The helicopters helped create a firebreak to prevent it from spreading further."

Aiding the civilian population for 18 years



The UHR has responded to emergency situations to protect civilians for the last 18 years.

It was created in 1997, within the framework of the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC), which proposed that all of the countries in the region should have units to aid their civilian population in the event of an emergency.

Since its inception, the UHR has provided aid not just in El Salvador, but beyond the country's borders.

In 2012, the UHR assisted Haiti's civilian population in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 220,000 people and destroyed 300,000 homes and commercial buildings.

The UHR also helped Nicaragua during the Atlantic floods of 2013.

In El Salvador, the UHR aided the civilian population during the major earthquakes that struck in January and February 2001. Collectively, the two temblors killed more than 1,200 people and destroyed or damaged more than 300,000 homes.

The unit also assisted the civilian population during the May 2014 volcanic eruptions, which prompted authorities to evacuate about 1,400 people from their homes about 90 miles east of San Salvador.

Training, support, and cooperation


To be prepared for any emergency, UHR members participate in various training programs. For example, in August 2011, the UHR took part in a tactical combat course held by the Armed Forces of Peru in coordination with the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).

“SOUTHCOM has given us a lot of support during military exercises at a local and regional level through the Humanitarian Allied Forces (FAHUM) to evaluate the emergency system levels and its response capabilities," Gen. Melara said. "There, we have trained leaders in simulations."

In 2014, the UHR participated in a two-week training program involving various simulated emergency situations, such as a collapsed structure and a highway accident involving hazardous materials.

Military authorities are developing a training plan to respond to earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, and other natural threats. Those will maximize the UHR's ability to protect and shelter victims and help provide them medical care.

“The FAES are constantly training and improving because, in El Salvador, the rehearsals become reality,” concluded Gen. Melara.
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